Set in Hong Kong before, during and after the Japanese occupation of the Second World War, this is the story of a local community, a cast of colourful characters, ex-pats, local Chinese, lots of parties, secrets, shady dealings and the hardships and effects of war and occupation.
There are two stories running parallel and the narrative switches between the 1940s (pre and during the war) to the 1950’s and the post war period. Central to both is Will Truesdale, an Englishman and the women he loves in each of these decades.
The story begins in 1952 when Claire Pendleton arrives in Hong Kong from England. Accompanying her husband Martin who has come to work, she is reserved and uncertain. At first overwhelmed by the heat, the extroverted people, the unfamiliar customs, she eventually finds her feet and blooms. She takes on a job with the well to do Chen family as piano teacher to their daughter Locket. It is at this time that she also meets Will, their chauffeur and gradually gets to know him, odd as he is. Claire’s husband Martin is a minor character in the story, his role seems to have been to take Claire to Hong Kong and then travel al lot with work, asking few questions and leaving Claire free to do as she pleased.
Switching then to 1941, we meet Will as he first arrives in Hong Kong, where he meets Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasion socialite who scoops him up into her world, an endless round of silk and parties. All is well until the war and the Japanese occupation. Trudy and Will are separated, she on the outside bowing to the occupiers, he in Stanley, an internment camp for foreigners where meeting basic needs is a daily struggle.
My thoughts on this are a bit mixed. It was a very pleasant read and once started, I didn’t read anything else until it was finished. It whetted my appetite for more reading about Hong Kong during this time period. I enjoyed the whole ex-pat community side of the story. There was a plot of sorts that linked the two stories together but I didn’t find it especially gripping and a lot of that came together in a bit of a flurry near the end. It seemed that it was more of a character story but none of the characters were really explored as much as I would have liked. I came to the end not really knowing a lot more about Will Truesdale than I did at the start. Trudy had the beginnings of being a captivating character and Claire’s character’s transformation had just got started really when the book ended. I think the idea for the story was great and there was the opportunity for it to be longer and for the characters to be explored more.